Obama's Audacity in Appalachia

The mountaintop removal issue transcends any narrow debate of jobs vs. trees by clearly showing that the environmental devastation has gone hand-in-hand with economic decline.
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When the shouting is over, a sad fact remains about Appalachia during this presidential primary season: When Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, trundled their liberal stop-global-warming bandwagons into the coalfields of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennesse, they blew off one of the biggest crimes against nature, and American citizens, in our modern times.

Mountaintop removal, as Al Gore recently pointed out, is indeed a crime and "ought to be treated as a crime."

Gore's frankness begs the question: How could Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come into this region and simply gloss over the fact that more than 470 mountains and some of our nation's most diverse and ancient forests -- an area the size of some eastern states -- and the adjacent communities of American citizens and their water supply and health care (and any attempts at a diversified and sustainable economy) have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed by this bizarre form of stripmining?

Let's be clear: No one is calling on Obama to reject the reality of coal in our current energy policy or call for an end to coal. Of course not. (Likewise, it would be nice of Obama to call for better mining safety measures for our nation's coal miners.)

UPDATE: During his campaigning in West Virginia and Kentucky, Obama made an admirable call for protecting waterways and enforcing the Clean Water and Air Acts, but, to the consternation of many Appalachians, he failed to take the next step of directly coming out against mountaintop removal or including such a vision in his campaign platform.

But just as Obama could go to the Cuban American community in Miami and call for looser travel restrictions and money transfers to Cuba, and tell the Cuban American community, "I won't stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba," it's too bad Obama didn't have the audacity of courage to distinguish between the illusory "clean coal" slogans of the coal lobbyists, the difference between underground mining and surface mining, and the machinations of a handful of coal operators in the specific crime of mountaintop removal in central Appalachia.

Is Barack Obama so beholden to King Coal that he can't single out this particular tragedy?

I hope not.

Mountaintop removal is not an Appalachian issue. It is a national issue, and above all, a civil rights issue that transcends any narrow debate of jobs versus trees by clearly showing that the environmental devastation has gone hand in hand with economic decline.

Mountaintop removal leads to poverty and dispossession, in every sense. (In West Virginia, for example, there are less than 500 United Mine Worker union jobs related to mountaintop removal.)

Barack Obama's extraordinary and inspiring campaign of hope needs to come up to the mountains and recognize this. In fact, every American needs to listen to the words of author Wendell Berry, one of our nation's most insightful philosophers, that we don't only need a vision of a "better future," but "an increase of consciousness and critical judgment in the present," and this begins with mountaintop removal.

Every time you flick on your light switch or attend a lit-up evening baseball game this summer -- from the sun-drenched city of Phoenix, Arizona to the Midwestern back warrens of St. Louis and Chicago, to the eastern seaboard states like North Carolina, to the neon billboards in Times Square in New York City -- a large portion of your electricity will come from coal-fired plants that utilize coal from mountaintop removal sites in central Appalachia.

Check out Ilovemountains.org to see your connection to mountaintop removal.

Perhaps in the fall campaign Obama will deal with his own connection to mountaintop removal.

In the meantime, I urge you to take a few minutes to view these important new film documentaries, among many others:

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